Listen, product knowledge is important and absolutely makes a difference. However it is overrated especially in the beginning of selling a product or service and building a new customer base. I know what I just said is heresy but please stay with me for a moment.
To bring in new customers and move into new markets, a sales person needs to have identified markets, companies, and individuals in these companies who are the decision makers and are buying what you are selling. Pretty simple and obvious statement. Yes?
If you are talking to people who are buying what you are selling your chances of making a sale are a lot better.
Now the question is how much product knowledge do you need in order to build a good list of people buying what you are selling? The truth is not very much. A limited amount of product knowledge is useful when you begin this process so you can explain to people in very simple terms what you are selling. By simply explaining to people what you are doing, they can start directing you to the people in the organization who might be involved in the products you are selling.
Organizations are complicated. Every particular organization makes decisions in their own particular way. People who are involved in buying decisions can include senior management, supply chain individuals, engineers, manufacturing folks, quality people, and the list could go on. Excellent salespeople bring in highly desired new customers but being exceptional at understanding how an organization works and identifying the key person or people who are involved with the product/service. This requires a whole lot of listening, closely paying attention, and the willingness to ask tough questions. Many people will tell you that they make the decision but in truth only a few do. This takes months and sometimes years to fully understand how an organization works.
Product knowledge is important and in an ideal world I would love my salespeople to have a very deep understanding of the product, however most organizations have people who understand their products very well. Where many businesses fall short is they do not have the tenacious sales person who will go out and identify the list of companies and build the list of buyers. Sales people who spend an inordinate amount of time in the beginning building their product knowledge at the expense of getting on the phone are avoiding
the difficult task of building their list. Many salespeople if left to their own devices will find numerous things to do in order to avoid picking up the phone and doing this hard work. The secret most of these salespeople do not know is that if they consistently prospect for 18 months they will have such a viable and well qualified list of companies/buyers that the need to do this type of cold calling and research will drop dramatically.
The first day my company begins working with a client we are on the phone identifying buyers. Why? Because the hardest and most difficult task of bringing in new customers is this type of activity. At some point product knowledge will become very useful but not until you find someone who is buying what you are selling!